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Teacher Slips on Ketchup Sachet: Headline-Grabbing Claims Put into Context

14th March 2014

A recent Freedom of Information request has revealed that Essex County Council settled a £230k compensation claim to a secondary school teacher who slipped in a school hallway on a “discarded ketchup sachet”. This huge sum will no doubt raise a few eyebrows as well as the understandable ‘compensation culture’ question.

However, it is important to have the full facts at your disposal before making judgements. The teacher was in their place of employment, and would expect their employer to provide a floor that is safe to walk on. The teacher would not have expected or wanted to suffer an injury. The school was a building to which a large number of people have almost daily access and 
therefore pupils were also at risk. None of us wants to think our child or grandchild will be injured at school and cleaning systems are in place to clean up such hazards, especially at busy times. 

Teacher's injuries and lost income

As a consequence of this incident, the teacher will have lost income and incurred expenses, as well as suffered physically. Based on these factors, the teacher will have been awarded compensation according to a pre-set scale, according to awards in previous cases that were heard in Court. 

While it is natural that people question this case, the reality is that the settlement could in fact save public money; as the Council did not need to pay its barrister to contest in Court. The Council and its insurer will have had its own well-resourced legal team. The teacher was legally represented by a lawyer instructed by the NUT, whose duty it will have been to fearlessly represent that client. 

We would all like to think that if we are injured or our family members are injured, justice can still be achieved even when there is no Union involvement. Yet recently, insurance companies persuaded the Government to seek to limit claimant lawyer’s fees to deter claims and those seeking justice for the injured. 

Balancing competing needs and aiming for the optimal solution

Most people care about their level of taxation and how tax proceeds are used. Many people also want to see justice done for genuine victims. These things are not mutually exclusive. It is reasonable to want to live in a safe environment and to expect that when a person is injured due to another’s negligence it is right that the victim receives compensation.

In an ideal world there would be fewer accidents and hence fewer claims. Perhaps, focus needs to be placed more heavily on accident prevention and less on the criticism of those who seek redress having been injured as a result of negligence.